Kumar Sangakkara’s masterful century helped Sri Lanka chase down England’s total of 293 at The Oval with seven wickets and 17 balls to spare in the Champions Trophy.
The hosts, who knew that victory would put them in the semi-finals with a game to spare, would have been happy with their total, built through half-centuries from Alastair Cook, Jonathan Trott and Joe Root, and finished by a final over onslaught worth 28 runs from Ravi Bopara.
But Sri Lanka, aware that defeat would send them home, rose to the challenge. Sangakkara, who finished unbeaten on 134 – got the chase off to a solid start with Tillakaratne Dilshan.
Mahela Jayawardene then continued the work, and the promotion of pinch-hitter Nuwan Kulasekara proved a masterstroke, with the middle order man slogging an unbeaten 58 from 38 deliveries.
England's bowling fell apart late on, with Stuart Broad and Tim Bresnan particularly culpable, but it should not detract from the fact that Sri Lanka had to pull off the highest chase in Champions Trophy history to stay in the tournament.
It means that with a game to go in Group A, all four sides can qualify, and every team’s future is in their own hands. England will still reach the last four with victory over New Zealand on Sunday, while the winner of Sri Lanka’s game with Australia will also likely advance.
England made a single change from the side which beat Australia in their opener, Graeme Swann fit and returning for James Tredwell, while Kulasekara replaced Thisara Perera for Sri Lanka in what proved an inspired switch.
Both sides would have bowled first under dark skies on a cold and windy day in London, but Cook and Ian Bell seemed the better equipped opening pair to cope with the challenges of batting on a dank English morning.
They began steadily – do they know any other way? – seeing off the first 10 powerplay overs and scoring just shy of four an over.
But Bell, having repelled Lasith Malinga, then gave away his wicket in astonishing fashion, lazily helping Shaminda Eranga’s innocuous delivery to midwicket.
Trott began busily, and together with Cook the innings gradually accelerated. Cook rode his luck – twice Tillakaratne Dilshan shelled difficult chances to catch him out, one off his own bowling, but eventually fell for 59, leg-before to Rangana Herath. He reviewed in the hope that he was outside the line, but ended up wasting the review.
Root proved the ideal foil to Trott, scoring rapidly even without finding the boundary. Trott, who hadn’t scored lower than 37 in his seven ODI innings, duly added another half-century, while Root began to expand with some daring boundaries.
Trott fell for 76, with some wags suggesting that the timing could scarcely be better for the likes of Eoin Morgan and Jos Buttler to wreak havoc in the last overs.
Root, meanwhile, enjoyed a slice of fortune or two along the way in his innings – twice he was deceived by slower balls from Malinga, only for the ball to evade the clutches of fielders. The third time he was beaten, however, he was dismissed for a 55-ball 68.
A mini-collapse followed, with Morgan (13) departing the next ball after a poor lbw decision and no recourse to a review, while Buttler edged behind the next over for a duck. Tim Bresnan also perished, but just as it looked as if England’s innings had ground to a halt, Bopara savaged Eranga’s final six balls to propel the home side to an imposing-looking score.
It seemed as if it would be enough against a side who had been skittled out for 138 in their first match against New Zealand in Cardiff – and the notion was hardly dispelled by the cheap dismissal of Kusal Perera.
But from then on it was all Sri Lanka. Dilshan’s 44 and Jayawardene’s 42 were both excellent supporting acts, while Kulasekara’s 58 was electrifying and gave what had been for long periods a close contest a one-sided finish.
Sangakkara’s knock stole the show. He was rarely troubled, always able to rotate the strike, and capable of finding a boundary as and when required. It was his first ODI ton against England, and unquestionably one of the best limited-overs innings of his career.
Anderson picked up two for 51, and was again the pick of the England bowlers. Swann’s one for 50 was also economical, his figures only damaged by the late onslaught. But Bresnan (0 for 63) and Bresnan (0 for 67 from just 8.1 overs) lacked bite, and one of them could well make way for Steven Finn, rated number three in the world rankings, for the final group game.
From now on, every game for England – and the rest of the teams in a closely-packed Group A – is effectively a knockout match, and there’ll be no room for error.